Thursday, 27 March 2014

Gender Socialization in the Media and its Effect on Girls

[I wrote this for a blog exercise for one of my classes, but I thought I'd share it on here too because it's something I'm passionate about!]

There was a press conference a couple of years ago to promote the movie The Avengers. While watching just the first few minutes, I noticed that the questions that were directed towards the men pertained to the acting, the filming, and the character development, whereas when Scarlett Johansson (who plays The Black Widow, a very strong, witty, sarcastic, agile, and courageous character) was asked a question, it wasn't about her acting skills, it wasn't about Black Widow's character development. In fact, it had no relation to her immense talent whatsoever. The exact wording of the question directed at her was "To get into shape for Black Widow did you have anything special to do in terms of the diet, like did you have to eat any specific food, or that sort of thing?” Being the wonderful individual she is, she answered the question with absolute grace, though she is clearly unimpressed by the "rabbit food" question. And why shouldn't she be unimpressed, when all her male costars are being asked existential questions, and she, just because she's a woman, is asked about her body? You can watch the interaction in the video above (3:00-4:26).
This gives us a little bit of insight on the large issue of gender socialization from the media. So many female celebrities, like Scarlett, are subjected to questions, interviews, and ratings about their appearance, rather than their talent. For example, when Ryan Seacrest was interviewing the Academy Award attendees last weekend, he asked most of the men about their careers, but he asked the women first about their dresses (since "that's what everyone wants to know about"), and then maybe about their movies. [see here] Why is this topic so important to touch upon? I'll tell you why. Because it's intended target eats it up. 

Everywhere I look, I see ads for makeup, hair, clothing, weight loss, and modelling agencies. Teen girls see these, and they hear "You're not good enough, so buy this and you will be." I see interviews with beautifully made-up female stars, talking about their wardrobes. Girls watch these, and they hear "Talent isn't important, it's your outward appearance that really matters." I see magazine articles, featuring new mothers who lost their baby weight in four months.
Girls read these, and they hear "Over-exercising to look good is more important than taking care of your baby, because who wants a fat mother?" Though all of these values are false, young girls (the ones who are being targeted) believe them, because these values define society's stereotypical, desirable woman - flawless, thin, with perfect hair, perfect teeth, and a perfect boyfriend. This belief transfers to their everyday actions.

Patricia Adler (1992) states that the extra curricular activities that girls participate in are focused around glamour and concern for their appearance. Her findings from her study show that one of the main causes for popularity in girls is physical appearance. The more popular girls have the nicer clothes, the nicer makeup, and the more attention from boys. But how did this become the definition of popular? The media. Girls believe that if they have all of these qualities, they'll be more like their favourite celebrity, and looking like a celebrity means you'll be successful. 

Thinking as a feminist theorist, I believe that there is a huge problem in the media's portrayal of women. Men are seen as successful for their talents, and women are more so seen as successful for their looks. This causes young girls to have lower self-esteem if their looks aren't at that level.

What can we do to change this?

1 comment:

  1. Insightful blog. Raising awareness about the issue, as you have done here, is a first step in what we can do to change the situation.